UCSB's Blue Horizons filmmakers

UCSB's Blue Horizons filmmakers

UCSB’s Documentary Film Program

Summer Courses Teach Documentary Film and Environmentalism

Given today’s political climate, the need to educate the public about the fragility of our environment has never been greater. At UCSB, a summer program titled “Blue Horizons” intends to make an impact by teaching students the basics of documentary filmmaking and environmental science.

Blue Horizons seeks to bring typically disparate groups of students — scientists and artists — together in order to combine their skills for the purpose of creating an impactful and insightful 10- to 15-minute documentary. The program offers three courses: storytelling, environmental topics, and the core filmmaking, producing, and editing course. Founder Michael Hanrahan began the program 10 years ago with the goal of creating a new generation of environmentally conscious storytellers.

When asked about his motivations for starting the program, Hanrahan said, “My ultimate dream is to have environmental journalists all over the country and world that are coming together to create these pieces. I think that increasingly Blue Horizons is serving as a resource for other areas on campus to use media to talk more clearly and openly about the environmental processes and issues facing our community.”

The program’s union with UCSB gives students access to a wealth of professors who are at the pinnacle of their fields, including experts on ocean acidification, clean energy, and climate change. Past documentaries created by the project touch on issues ranging from the link between forest fires and climate change to the increased prevalence of great white sharks off of the Santa Barbara coast.

Former participants in the program have gone on to pursue careers in documentary filmmaking, graduate school studying the natural sciences, and even roles as brand ambassadors traveling the world creating inspiring content for their companies. “One of the things that drew me to Santa Barbara 20 years ago was that there were a bunch of natural history documentary producers that called S.B. their home. Some of them worked for BBC, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel,” said Hanrahan.

Filmmakers are drawn to the Central Coast area for a number of reasons, including the climate, the proximity to Los Angeles, and for environmentalists, the wealth of stories. “The beaches, the Channel Islands, sharks and whales, efforts of nonprofits to keep the coast clean and healthy, are all areas that provide incredibly interesting topics for short films,” said Hanrahan.

Educating the public about pressing issues can be a complex dynamic as films attempt to bridge the gap between scientific content and entertaining exposition. Blue Horizon’s documentaries have gone on to compete at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and others across the country. Despite lack of experience, the students are expected to perform.


For a good dose of intelligent, relevant, and exciting storytelling, see this year’s films debut on Friday, August 25, from 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m., at UCSB’s Pollock Theater. Visit

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